Ten days out…

I’m popping in here, ten days from contest, to give you a little run-down of what’s been happening during my looooonnggg radio silence.

Q: Why haven’t you been blogging, Tenacious Bee?

A: Well, to be quite honest, since I’ve been on a weight cut my mind has been preoccupied with survivin’. And because all I would be writing about is my diet. Which would be a waste of internet space as well as brain molecules for you, dear reader. Diets are fucked and they are a way to control the masses and increase capitalist production while decreasing self-worth.

Q: Well what else has been going on??

A: Well I’ll tell you!

I’ve been making an effort to let training fold itself into the background of my life. I’m consistent, I show up and put in the work that my program demands, and then I leave for the day and allow it to be what it is. My lifting is a part of who I am, but it’s not my totality. This being my first real competitive Strongman contest, I am going to play a lot of it by ear and by feel. And at this point, I’m about as strong as I’m going to be by September 14.

Instead of allowing myself to be preoccupied with the upcoming event, I’ve been committing to focus on the here and now. I’ve been reveling in my amazing garden that’s bursting at the seams with tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, peppers, raspberries, carrots, onions, shallot, and zucchini. At least three times a week I make a beautiful salad entirely out of garden delights! My favorite is a tomato, shallot, cucumber, basil, mint salad with a squeeze of lime and hefty dose of salt. It’s fresh and crispy and a delight when paired with baked chicken legs that have been marinating in my favorite spices.

Now that it’s September, we’re planning our fall garden and all the anticipation that accompany new ideas and possibilities. On a recent trip to the North Bay, my sweetie and I picked up a bunch of seeds which we’ll put in our seed starter this week. I’m most excited about the giant white kohlrabi and the watermelon radishes we will be inviting into our garden, but I’m also stoked about the various cabbages and beans we’re about to let nature work its magic on.

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Something’s emerging…. potential! Possibility! Hope… Determination… germination 😉

I’ve also managed to work on several papers and presentations in my field of psychology, which is no small thing to be sure. I’ve even read a book- I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. (Powerful- highly recommended.) And finally, I cleaned out two rooms in my house that I left abandoned and neglected for years. Finally these rooms have purpose, light, and fresh air rather than a shitload of cardboard boxes, old paperwork, mold, and A DEAD FUCKING RAT!!! THAT’S RIGHT I FOUND A DEAD FUCKING RAT that apparently my cat dragged in there probably a few months ago? and left there to decay and rot. No wonder we had a fly problem this year, uuggghhh!!! YUCK.

So, yeah, all this is to say- there is life outside of lifting, but I’m still really happy to be on this adventure. I won’t be sad when it’s over and burgers and booze are back in the picture, but damn if I’m not so grateful for the chance to learn what’s really important to me. Stay tuned for more on that….

4 weeks out!

Lots of people have been asking me what I think about the contest, now that it’s so close.

My response: “I’m trying not to.”

That’s not entirely true- I am definitely thinking about the contest each time I practice one of the movements in training. I think, What is the 105# log feeling like? Heavy? Manageable? What will 120# feel like? Can I push myself more with this farmer’s carry? Will 160# per hand feel do-able with all the stress of the event upon me? How’s my bracing and breathing under this yoke?

Mostly, my focus right now is cutting weight. I’ve never had to do this for a lifting event before, so it’s all new. There are definitely a bunch of ways to drop pounds, but none of them are particularly wonderful-feeling, especially not while lifting heavy shit and holding down a full-time job and other commitments. At this point, I’m really just trying to go day by day, hour by hour, and that means I’m slowing down a lot of the non-necessities (like this bloggo, sorry y’all) and trying to maximize my chill time.

If I learn anything from this experience of cutting weight, I hope it’s how to maximize my chill time!!

I am getting excited about Vegas, though. I’ve never been, but there’s a restaurant that beloved Anthony Bourdain visited that looks amazing and I’m hoping we all go after our weigh-ins.

In fact, I’m going to make a reservation now! Hashtag MOTIVATION

https://lotusofsiamlv.com/

It’s another thing to look forward to that has nothing to do with how much weight I cut or lift. I need these little markers right now, to help lessen the tension of preparation.

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(Not my diet, but add a pack of Virginia Slims and I’m tempted…)

Back after a short hiatus (Recovery is Queen!)

Hi, all of you three people who read this blog!

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve blogged regularly and I’m here to explain myself with the following reasons:

  1. It’s actually summer for me. I work full-time year round, and September-June I’m also in school for a doctorate. So these past few weeks I’ve really been soaking up the summer vacation.
  2. I started a calorie deficit two weeks ago and it’s killing me! Not really, but certainly my enthusiasm and motivation is a bit lower than when I’m properly fed. So I mostly conserve my thinking energy for what really matters: My job, my friends, my family.
  3. I got my period this week. This makes me feel even more starving and grouchy, and my recovery is a lot slower than usual.
  4. I spent 30 hours last weekend moving heavy furniture and getting my impromptu creative juices flowing due to a furniture mishap in my office, which needed to be fixed before the start of the work week. That burnt out my body AND my mind, and threw off my training for the week.

That’s kind of what I’m here to talk about today- not the burnout part, you can read last week’s entry for that- but the recovery part.

As an aging athlete (with aforementioned full-time job, academics, and family) who is training for a challenging contest at a calorie deficit, my biggest priority is my recovery. This is all worth nothing if I lose my job and break my body and drain my energy sources and can’t recover. I have to remind myself: THIS IS A HOBBY! IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNNNNNNNNNNNNN

So when the Great Furniture Debacle of 2018 happened last weekend, and Monday I couldn’t squat for shit (but definitely peed), I took two additional days off from my training program. That’s right: I had taken Saturday and Sunday off from my program, and then when Monday went down the toilet I packed it in after those heavy squats and took Monday and Tuesday completely off.

When I say “completely off,” I actually mean it. My training partner, Rage Butterfly, spends her off days doing this, I’m not kidding:

I generally go out to [Local Wilderness Park] Thursday late afternoons for a trail run/swim/run, and tomorrow I’m going to throw in some heavy hill carries as well (I’ve got plenty of logs, sandbags, and an nasty bucket o’gravel) during the first run portion. Yes, the second run is wet, it’s good practice for [Spartan] race conditions. Run is under 5 miles.

You know what I did on my day off? I cooked a boatload of food, 20 meals for the week actually, and in between prepping sat around in the garden eating tomatoes off the vine. I did a load of laundry, took a hot Epsom salt bath, and talked with my brother for a couple of hours. My partner and I talked about whether we should paint the walls of the living room to spruce it up, and if so, what color. The biggest adventure was driving to Trader Joe’s with my bedhead still properly intact to pick up some staples I’d missed during the previous day’s grocery run. Later, I watched a couple episodes of a TV show and did some research on the internet for an upcoming vacation. I drank my fish oil and magnesium and was in bed by 10pm.

THAT’S my kind of day off.

Anyway, I have learned over the years that as much as I enjoy pushing my body, I have to really, really rest at least one day per week. No stress, no plans, no obligations, and certainly no physical intensity.

So, back to those two days off last week, Monday and Tuesday: It screwed up my program a little bit, but here is a vid of my squats on Wednesday. These were a do-over from Monday, when I couldn’t make it through the first set of five and my 85% felt like death:

(Thanks to C who is “helping me brace” by cracking me up)

These squats felt like butter. They were not effortless, as you can see from my elbow positioning- it did still feel challenging to keep my chest up and fire my abs. Part of that is because I’ve lost some mass in my abdominal area and now I’m having to re-learn how to brace against my belt (the physics has changed) which throws me off a bit.

But what I’m attempting to demonstrate is that taking time off really DOES work, and it’s so necessary for my body to be reminded that I love it and appreciate all the hard work it does to keep me well-regulated. If I treat my body well it treats me well back. I didn’t used to have this relationship with my body, but I’m so grateful for that now: When I listen, and respond, in time my body can heal. Yes it’s taken me YEARS to have this relationship with my body- I used to feel so chaotic and disconnected from my body- and I am so grateful for the ways our relationship has grown more loving and connected over time.

I was able to finish most of the 6 days of programming this week in 4 days, by adding my accessory exercises throughout the week and limiting my main lifts (my coach said to eliminate one pressing day). I even took Sunday completely off this week (see above). I’m super glad I took these breaks and highly recommend prioritizing recovery for bleeding, old, preoccupied athletes with full-time jobs like myself!

A “less-than-ideal” training situation

Hey, it’s been a while. Somehow last week I lost a bit of steam when it comes to writing, mostly because I started running a calorie deficit and everything felt like hell. My body is pretty irritated with me, like one might be with a too-rigid parent, for not giving it what it wants when it wants it. But, as one does when all the joy is sucked out of one’s life, my body is complying. I feel sad about making my body bend to my will because I love my body’s unexpected free will, but I have to drop some weight to make it into my qualifying weight class at contest. The calorie deficit means that even last week’s deload week felt like rotten bananas and old garbage.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I DO NOT RECOMMEND being in a calorie deficit while also peaking for strength. Don’t do it. Be better than me.

So then, as if the weakness wasn’t bad enough, this weekend I spent about thirty hours changing my work office around. That meant lugging heavy furniture up and down a flight of fifteen stairs and moving books, bookcases, desks, and tons of paperwork for hours straight. Most of the time I went long spans of time without eating or drinking water. I worked a sixteen hour day on Sunday, including three hours at IKEA. Only one of those hours was spent in line! Someone told me I should call my union rep on myself for forcing myself to work a double with no lunch breaks.

IMG_1609I think that if Buddhists went to hell it would probably be filled with assembling IKEA furniture- it’s an odd combination of meditative and terrible. Buddhists, or maybe engineers. Like, it’s satisfying to see a design take shape, but my poor fingers and back from hunching over and screwing in tiny screws!

So, naturally, come Monday’s programming I was toast. Not only did I not get to sleep until 1:30am and then back awake at 7 to fix more stuff in the office before my work day started, but when I hit my first set of squats below my working weight I felt like I was lifting elephants. I added 20# to that to hit my working weight and I couldn’t even get through the first set. I even peed a little on my last attempt! That is rare for me.

It was also a sign to pack it in. A few things were happening at the same time. One, my body was sore, cramped, and neurodisconnected from itself- I couldn’t “think” of how to fire my glutes or quads, I could hardly feel my abs, and I couldn’t “remember” how to brace (hence the pee, I think). Also, I was at the gym in the evening which is unusual for me. The flow is different, the vibe is different, the people are different, and I felt different. I couldn’t get my grounding.

Plus both Mars and Mercury are retrograding so everything’s a little bananas.

So I picked up my shit and went to the grocery store. Another aftereffect of spending all weekend at the office is that I didn’t get to meal prep so I’m having to do it piece by piece. That meant going to Trader Joe’s on a Monday evening with all the post-work zombies (myself included). As soon as I picked up my heavy grocery bag and headed to the car, my body said NOPE and I knew my heavy lifting was seriously done for the next day or two.

(Don’t worry, I didn’t get injured, just a stubborn NO cried forth from my bones.)

I’m taking the next couple of days off and focusing on stretching and mobility, and will get back on the donkey on Wednesday- it’s peak time for Nationals! Stay tuned!

“What is this fresh hell?” – Guest post!

Today’s post comes to you from my training partner Rage Butterfly. She and I both podiumed at California’s Strongest Woman (women…wimmin really) in April and are training to compete at Nationals this September. Here’s Rage Butterfly’s take on her training progress!

I just spent way too much time wading through the Internet freak show, keyword “women and bulging neck veins”.  I could care less about my own bellowing and Jim Carrey faces while working out, but the THING that popped out of my neck today while deadlifting was seriously alarming.  You know that ropey kind of vein that looks something like this?

Well, actually, mine doesn’t vibe like that at all, just in shape only.  I wish this new vein was quietly confident, patient, profoundly forceful.

Ah, nope. This vein is thinly-veiled agitation, testing the boundary of my fragile sun-damaged neck skin.   I could see it bulging out in the mirror from across the gym.  The meandering form is so beautiful in a river, yet surely portends imminent death in a human neck, yes?

”Don’t  hold your breath, your veins will pop.”

“Don’t hurt yourself.”

“You don’t really need to be that strong, why push it?”

I picked up a barbell for the first time about three years ago, and really, lifting has only taken off in the last year for me.  With zero background in strength sports and a fairly cautious, phlegmatic nature, I am in a constant state of alarm over the trauma and odd adaptations that happen to bodies that regularly pick up very heavy, awkward objects.  So, I exercised due diligence and waded through enough information online to mollify my concern that I would exsanguinate through my neck the next time I sneezed.   (You might think I tend toward the dramatic.  In fact, I am fairly stoic.  I’m simply highly susceptible to imagery, and what kept coming to mind was the Black Knight from Monty Python’s Holy Grail.  At least it made me laugh.)

Ah, but I digress.  Some of you may still be reading this in the desperate hope that you just might find out some useful information for your training.   Well, let’s see.   Ropey neck veins aparently have something to do with the musculature getting bigger and kind of pushing the veins out to the surface, and then if you don’t have much fat to cover the spectacle, you’ve got yourself a bulging neck vein!  Congratulations.  It apparently won’t kill you, and it generally goes back into its cave when you’re not playing so hard.

Perhaps this is more useful?   The last time I PR’d my deadlift I actually felt as quietly confident as that meandering river above.  For several months I had been putting down layer after layer of imagery, mentally rehearsing what I wanted to happen in those particular five seconds of competition at California’s Strongest Woman in April.   I had actively practiced being open to the possible magnitude of the lift.  When I stepped up to the bar, the lift had essentially already happened in my mind, hundreds of times.

I’ve been fishing about for a working image to get my head wrapped around Strongman Nationals this September.  So today’s little vascular drama has conveniently given me an opportunity to welcome in a new mental picture I can use in the coming months to build up my head game.

This river is a powerful meanderer.

May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.  -Ranier Maria Rilke

Watch Rage Butterfly kick ass at CSW 2018!

Introducing: Log clean and press!

Here is a video of me doing my first set of 3×8 log clean & press (“press” in this case means “get it overhead any way possible”) at 70% of my one rep max.

I do one clean and 8 jerks here, because we’re working on building my overhead strength for contest. My current 1 rep max in log clean and press is 105#, and the log at contest will be 120#.

That’s a long way to go.

A friend asked me, “How is a log different than the regular barbells?” I thought it was a great question that maybe others have, so I’ll share my answer here.

The log is different from a barbell in several ways. First of all, imagine a giant car muffler trying to strangle and crush you. Another friend wondered if it could double as a meat smoker. (Answer: Probably!) After a while, the barbell starts to feel more like a conductor’s baton than an actual weight-bearing implement.

Physically, the log itself is a giant 10 inch cylinder which, in order to hold in the rack position (on your chest between jerks/presses), you have to bend your back and look straight up at the sky. This requires a lot of thoracic mobility and a different orientation for your balance. When pressing with a barbell, you can look straight ahead of you at a fixed point; the sky doesn’t really have that. I once saw a crow flying with a cracker in its mouth, but usually it’s just blue sky ahead. That makes the balance piece much more challenging. Not to mention, the weight is positioned much farther in front of you, so it’s imperative that you keep your elbows high. Otherwise, the log will tip forward, and it will become extremely difficult to press up.

Then, when you’re pressing a log, you’re doing a much bigger loop around your head than you would with a barbell. In fact, with a barbell, you want to minimize the looping around your head by pulling your head back and out of the way. Pressing the bar straight up is key to utilizing the larger muscles in your back and not just the smaller arm and shoulder muscles. The log prevents you from doing this, however, because you’re already in a slight backbend in the rack, so you can’t pull your head back any further. It simply requires a lot more strength in a very awkward position.

And finally, there’s the psychological piece. When you’re in that rack position, you might feel like the log is trying to choke you out. It’s hard to breathe in a backbend with a heavy implement pressing down on your chest and neck. As coach Patrick says, “The log is trying to kill you. Don’t let it!”

For comparison’s sake, my most recent barbell jerk max is 143# (tested in February), and my current log jerk max is 105# (tested in April). So you can see the major difference in weight, at least for me at this point.

Here’s to making it to 120# for reps by September!!

How I balance life with training

In a recent post, I talked about how I have turned exercise from a form of self-punishment into something that provides me with containment, self-care, and encourages self-love. That transformation did not come easily, and there were several things I learned in the process. I’d like to share with you the most important lessons I have learned so far.

  • I pick a sustainable schedule for my lifestyle, including times of the day and days of the week, and stick to that. Even if all I can muster on the day-of is showing up and stretching, I stick to it. If I find that I consistently am unable to stick to that schedule, or it’s burning me out, it’s not the right schedule for me. I’ve discovered that some of the best gains are had with a 3- or 4- day a week schedule because I have time to recover (that’s where the muscles are made anyway).

  • If I wake up in the morning feeling headachey, sick, stressed out, exhausted, or starving, I take a day off. I eat well and abundantly. If I have a food craving, I satisfy it. I stay in bed instead of go to the gym. I take an epsom salt bath. If I can, I go for a walk in nature. I go to analysis if it’s scheduled. I write. I take it slow and easy. I eliminate extra things in the day like social events and errands that are unnecessary. I drink lots of water and consume sodium. I drink electrolytes. I have learned that this is what overtraining feels like in my body, and it is communicating to me that I am over-doing it.  I have learned how to listen to that message and take it seriously.

  • If I don’t “feel like” going to the gym, I go anyway. I train anyway. *This is a different feeling than the overtraining feeling of actually being sick and headachey and starving. The “I don’t feel like it” is more of an emotional experience than a physical one, though it may have physical manifestations. It has taken me YEARS to figure out the difference, but now that I know, I am always honest with myself about which feeling it actually is and respond accordingly.

  • I remember the long game. If I am actually training for a competition, I commit in advance to an exercise and recovery protocol with my coach who works specifically with me to track my body’s response to my program. If there is no competition, I am not training: I am exercising. Exercising is for well-being and health and to support everything else in my life. Showing up at the gym becomes about building on something for the long haul. I remember that if I lower my intensity but keep showing up, my work will accumulate and I will have more strength and skill down the road.

  • The number one thing for me as a Masters athlete and as someone with a very stressful job is to prioritize recovery. I keep a workout schedule that gives me built-in days off to rest so my body can make use of the work I’ve put in. A consistent couple of days off can do wonders for my long-term health and my performance at the gym.

  • This also includes eating. If I’m training for a competition, I do my best to keep my diet abundant with plenty of protein, a variety of carbs, and my favorite fats to keep me satiated and to keep the food delicious. I do my best to cut out most alcohol and sweets and chips unless I am in a position where the craving is sending me a message about giving myself what I need. I don’t see cravings as bad. I see cravings as a communication that I am not getting enough of something. IT IS OKAY TO HAVE ENOUGH. On this note, I take the time to food prep once a week so that I have a better chance of feeling like I always have enough. This feels to me like a form of self-love: To provide myself enough of what I need.

For me, over time and trial and error I have found activities and sports that I enjoy and will keep putting the work into. Sometimes I go through cycles: Swimming in the summer, squatting more in the winter, more CrossFit in the spring, a couple of weeks completely off in the dead of winter. There are so many things to do with your body! I’ve learned that what you love and enjoy may change as you change and grow. It’s an ever-evolving relationship with movement and your body. Soak it up as best you can while you can.

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Sometimes, for those of us who drink, a beer is absolutely necessary. Pictured: A beer with a large foam head next to the book “Killers of the Flower Moon”